Trying to understand what it means to be a man in the 21st century is an ever-evolving process. A man has expectations of who he should be coming at him from every direction, medium, and source. He may be trying to live up to a standard set by an important father figure, like his dad, grandad, uncle, coach, etc. Young men are constantly battling the expectations laid before them with the expectations they have for themselves. You can call it “soul searching” or “discovering one’s self” or simply “growing up.” The point is, we’re trying. There’s just a lot of mixed messages coming our way, as well as the women around us, and there’s just a lot of shit we have to sift through before finding something that rings true to us.
I recently read a New York Times investigative piece written by Walt Bogdanich entitled “A Star Player Accused, and a Flawed Rape Investigation,” (The New York Times) detailing the ways in which the Tallahassee Police Department botched the investigation into a December 2012 incident between alleged-rapist-turned-Heisman-trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and a 19-year-old female student. This story was kept under wrap by the TPD for nearly a year before the investigation was made public , along with the identity of the accused, during the 2013-14 NCAA football season.
These types of stories are never anything new to us: a key piece in a billion dollar industry is accused of or caught doing something wrong or illegal, the powers at be aim to cover up the crime or investigation to protect their important asset, life continues for all but those the crimes are committed against. Rinse, repeat. For those that follow big time college athletics, these types of stories are all too familiar (looking at you Notre Dame, Penn State, and Iowa, to name a few).
I worry about what kind of world the men in future generations will grow up in. I worry about a world where stories of institutionalized cover ups of crimes against those without the power or connections stop being something we’re outraged at and start becoming simple news filler. I worry about people that grow up in a world where behavior like this is laughed about and has excuses made for rather than shamed and ridiculed.
I worry about the people outside of myself that will be role models to the young boys and girls that we raise. I hope stories like the football player from Vanderbilt allowing a group of teammates to rape his unconscious girlfriend continue to affect and hurt us. I hope we never stop letting off the hook people Vanderbilt’s former coach James Franklin (now Penn State’s head football coach), who used his position as the head of a major football program to organize groups of young female students to “assist with recruiting even though he knew it was against the rules.”
I bring up these stories (there are plenty more: it happens in sports, it happens in Hollywood, and it happens in our military) because, with their increasing frequency, they aid in the creating of a hostile world for young men and women to grow up in. They show us that individuals with enough influence, status, or importance can take advantage of those with none and face near-zero ramifications. Are we resigned to living in and raising others in a world where the sexual and physical abuse of others is overlooked or even covered up by the powers that be, that the taking advantage of those with lesser status is just something that “happens?”
But how does this affect our images of ourselves as well as how others view me? When these episodes become regular, people begin to view them as normal, and they become a part of your environment and culture. How do we explain to someone that there are definite consequences for these crimes, when the opposite plays out time and time again? And how do we start to change this culture that exists where young men don’t think twice about using their position to gain advantage over someone sexually?
Speaking up can be an easy first step.
Men are starting to take an active role in discussions focused on sexual assault. Starting at the top, the White House recently unveiled it’s new 1 Is 2 Many campaign, putting the faces of male actors and celebrities at the front, issuing a challenge to us all that to be a passive bystander is never okay. “If I saw it was happening,” Vice President Biden says in the White House’s video, “I was taught you have to do something about… This is about respect, it’s about responsibility.” It challenges us all to not just notice assault taking place around us, but to also be a part of the solution.
At the very least, we have to take part in the discussion. We have to dismiss the ideas of victim blaming or rape-apologists, at first through education and, if unsuccessful, shouting them down and not allowing their opinion a place at the table. When we engage in that manner, we become a piece of the solution. We are viewed as an ally, a sympathizer, a friend. When we actively work to change that culture, we become a role model for others to follow, making the changes we want to see become more reality than dream.
But if we’re going to see any of this end, we first have to speak up.